The Unitarian Universalist Association officially lists 6 sources of wisdom in its by-laws. In reality, those sources encompass hundreds of traditions. In those traditions, there are thousands of concepts that might be referred to as “god”. Some concepts are well-defined and named, others are nebulous and unnameable. The fact is that we must all come to terms with the word “god”. We must understand that the word means something different to each of us; still, we may agree on certain things about the word – with a little discussion.
The word is a noun, but not a proper noun despite what mono-theists would like to assert. God is not a name. Understanding that is vital to being able to learn from our many sources.
When a culture begins to formulate what is worthy of reverence, how the world might have come into being, and why we seem to be the only species capable of pondering such questions, at least collectively. Belief in the local gods has often been about community as much as about faith; sharing the stories that are important to your people, whether history or myth, is vital in transmitting culture through the generations.
Gods Help Us Establish Our Place in the Universe.
Each of those stories tells us something about the culture that embraced it, even when it tells us nothing useful about the natural world. Concepts about how and why the world is as it is shape how a community interacts with the world. If you believe that humans are above the world, you are less likely to show respect to the balance of an ecosystem in favor of your own needs. Someone else who believes we are part of the web of life, or even that we are its stewards, is more likely to consider their impact. This can help us figure out how to reach compromises and make progress.
Understanding that even people who use God as a proper noun differ wildly in their beliefs about such beings allows us to have discussions they might never have with each other. Exposing those differences helps people see that there are more differences than are readily apparent. It could allow us to have deeper discussions. It could reveal that those who use god as a proper noun might have less in common with each other than they do with other groups. We could build new relationships.
Acknowledging the history of religion and the evolution of culture allows us to put our current culture in perspective. Knowing where we come from tells us how to move forward. It also allow us to be more comfortable with the fact that more change is inevitable. Hopefully, it allows us to embrace and shape change; change based on our hopes and values rather than our fears and insecurities.
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